TV mini or film? ‘Mildred’ blurs line

Haynes' HBO show gets international preem at Venice

As Todd Haynes’ HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce” makes its international premiere in Venice, it seems the frontiers between film and minis are blurring.

A main competition juror this year, Haynes is a Venice regular, last on the Lido with “I’m Not There,” which won Cate Blanchett a Volpi Cup in 2007. “Mildred Pierce” plays out-of-competition today.

As “Mildred” awaits the Emmys Sept. 18, Haynes and his “Mildred Pierce” co-writer Jon Raymond are re-teaming to write a theatrical feature turning on the Tea Party movement and conservative U.S. politics.

Raymond wrote three films directed by Kelly Reichardt, including Venice 2010 Competition contender “Meek’s Cutoff.”

“The Tea Party movement comes from a longer tradition of American politics: “Populist, paranoid views of government and power that have collected at various points over time and are in full throttle today,” Haynes said.

He added, however, that he wanted to “learn and understand, not always impose my own judgement.”

With HBO providing a fertile playing field for literary adaptations, Haynes has also been reported to be circling another period lit project that’s in development at the cabler, drama series “Dope.”

“The mini-series and new formats that HBO is experimenting with — with budgets big enough to be film budgets — are a clear indication of the fact that so-called cinema is not the same as it was 10 years ago,” said Venice fest artistic director Marco Mueller.

“Mildred Pierce is so obviously cinema for television, and not a hybrid.”

“From its conception, ‘Mildred Pierce’ was intended to work both in installments and as a whole as a novelistic cinematic work,” said Kary Antholis, HBO miniseries prexy.

Reflecting this, the five-hour mini, aired in 40-minute parts for TV, plays in its entirety with two breaks today.

Haynes’ adaptation looks more closely to the 1941 James M. Cain novel about a newly-divorced woman who battles to support her family than to the 1945 Michael Curtiz version. Many would say it’s one of the “Far From Heaven” helmer’s best: a tragedy of sacrificial motherhood where Mildred’s tragic flaw, in Haynes’ interpretation, is her unrequited love for daughter Veda.

Haynes’ “Mildred Pierce” also focuses — sometimes discomfortingly — on issues of money and class.

“I really found it exciting how remarkably the novel seemed to mirror a lot of issues we’re seeing today,” Haynes told Variety.

The HBO format gave Haynes “a bigger canvas to tell the story on, and different opportunities to develop things over time and taking my time, in descriptions, for example, of the workplace,” he added.

The Venice screenings mesh with the mini’s international rollout. Also in Venice for Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” Winslet will do press on “Pierce.” HBO Enterprises secured holdback commitments with broadcasters in Europe outside the U.K., to air the drama after its Venice platform, Antholis said.

“International has been a significant part of HBO’s revenue in recent years and we expect that to continue,” said Simon Sutton, prexy, HBO programming distribution and international.

(Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report)

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